The presence of a best friend directly affects children going through negative experiences, according to new research from Concordia University.
“Having a best friend present during an unpleasant event has an immediate impact on a child’s body and mind,” said co-author William M. Bukowski, Ph.D., a psychology professor and director of the Concordia Centre for Research in Human Development.
“If a child is alone when he or she gets in trouble with a teacher or has an argument with a classmate, we see a measurable increase in cortisol levels and decrease in feelings of self-worth.”
In the study, 55 boys and 48 girls in fifth and sixth grades in Montreal schools kept journals on their feelings and experiences over the course of four days and submitted to regular saliva tests that monitored cortisol levels.
Although previous studies have shown that friendships can protect against later adjustment difficulties, this study is the first to demonstrate that the presence of a friend results in an immediate benefit for the child undergoing a negative experience, the researchers said.
These results have far-reaching implications, Bukowski said.
“Our physiological and psychological reactions to negative experiences as children impact us later in life,” he said. “Excessive secretion of cortisol can lead to significant physiological changes, including immune suppression and decreased bone formation. Increased stress can really slow down a child’s development.”
“What we learn about ourselves as children is how we form our adult identities,” Bukowski said. “If we build up feelings of low self-worth during childhood, this will translate directly into how we see ourselves as adults.”
The study was published in the journal Developmental Psychology.
Source: Concordia University